We all have our favorite monsters. Whether it be the Wolf Man, Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, zombies, or Dr. Satan, us horror fans all have that one special creature that haunts our dreams and decorates our desks. We buy shirts with their faces on them, hunt down the actors who played them at conventions, and when we’re feeling brave, even try to replicate the intricate characters with costumes. It takes a special kind of person to bring these exquisite beings to life; one with enough talent, creativity, and love to create timeless beasts that render adoration from thousands of people over several years. Out of appreciation for their work, I’ve come up with a list of some of the best artists in make-up and special effects in horror. It was challenging to narrow it down, but at last, I’ve listed the top ten names in the business.
10. Marcel Vercoutere
William Friedkin’s The Exorcist wouldn’t be nearly as frightening without the beautiful work by Marcel Vercoutere. Reagan’s descent into madness is evident by her slow transition into the devil that plagues her insides. It starts as small scratches and a sinister look, and evolves into a tattered, discolored, badly damaged, frightening reminiscent of the girl that used to exist, as her soul wanes away. By the end of the feature, it’s scary to even be in the room with her, not only because of her actions, but her repulsive appearance. Sadly, special effects pro Vercoutere passed away this past April. His work will be remembered for years to come.
9. Germano Natali
When one thinks of Dario Argento’s Suspiria, a classic tale about a coven of witches, a vibrant rosy red palette often fills the mind. Whether it be Pat’s hanging, or the possessed friend charging Suzy with a knife, the red smears pop out like a painting, adding to the movie’s fantastical edge. The blood and mayhem that fills Italian gems such as Opera and Deep Red stand apart from the rest due to their majestic, theatrical nature. Natali’s unique style renders awe and amusement from all who are lucky enough to experience these features.
8. Wayne Toth
If you’re a fan of Rob Zombie’s movies, then you’re a fan of Wayne Toth. Toth has been with Zombie since the beginning, back in the days of House of 1000 Corpses, all the way through The Lords of Salem. His sleek methods produce creations and effects that are both gruesome and shockingly realistic. Of course, he’s worked on many more sets than those of Zombie. Some of his other work can be seen in cult classics like Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, Drag Me To Hell, Army of Darkness, Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: Dream Master, Wishmaster, The Faculty, and Grindhouse, just to name a few.
7. Chris Walas
Gremlins displayed some truly inspiring puppeteering. The organic movements that Gizmo and other Mogwais demonstrated personified the creatures to a point where they actually seemed real. We have Chris Walas to thank for these iconic characters, that brought joy and terror to so many of our young lives. Walas is also known for his work on The Fly, David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake, which is so visually striking, it arguably surpasses its 1958 predecessor.
6. Tom Savini
When conjuring up top notch special effects artists, Tom Savini’s name always comes to mind. He has given the horror community some of the most advanced, innovative work its ever laid eyes on, including titles like Friday the 13th, Day of the Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Creepshow, The Prowler, Maniac, The Burning, and many more. His unique, highly detailed work is utterly breathtaking, and guaranteed to make any picture look more realistic and mesmerizing.
5. Stan Winston
Friday the 13th Part III, Predator, Interview with the Vampire, Edward Scissorhands, The Monster Squad, Lake Placid, Galaxy Quest, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Shutter Island — these are just a few of Stan Winston’s long line of cinematic achievements. Winston left behind a legacy of immaculate props and makeup effects, giving horror and sci-fi fans everywhere new figures to idolize. I’ll never forget the first time I watched Terminator 2, and saw Sarah Connor’s terrifying dream sequence, where she imagines that Skynet, a computer system in the future, eliminates three billion humans from the face of the planet. In the dream, she and everyone nearby, including small children, are obliterated by a nuclear fire. The sequence happens in slow motion, illustrating the horrid evaporation of billions of souls at once, until only dust remains. Winston’s imagery leaves a mark no matter what the film, and his presence never goes unannounced.
4. Greg Nicotero
Some of Nicotero’s best efforts are displayed in the creature-driven, blood drenched Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn. For me, the first thing that comes to mind when I think of this sequel is always the mutilated, rotting Henrietta noticing Ash in her fruit cellar. Nicotero really captured the morbid, yet playful balance that Sam Raimi called for in his second entry in the series, and gave this film some very iconic characters. Nowadays, Nicotero is best known for his zombies on the hit T.V. show The Walking Dead, but his entire portfolio encompasses over 200 titles.
3. Rob Bottin
Oh, where to begin. How about telling you that Rob Bottin is the pupil of Rick Baker, and the teacher of Tom Savini. Bottin has won several Oscars for his work on films such as Se7en, RoboCop, and Total Recall, but his impressive resume is much longer than that. Perhaps his most memorable film any horror nut can recall is John Carpenter’s The Thing. Bottin worked seven days a week for so long when developing his “Thing”, that his first stop after the film was completed was the hospital, where he was diagnosed with extreme exhaustion.
2. Rick Baker
Baker isn’t just a talented makeup and special effects artist, he’s a rare, quirky, extremely gifted connoisseur of the craft. Baker’s priceless work in An American Werewolf in London contains one of the best werewolf transitions in horror, and unique and humorous makeup for Jack, David’s decaying friend that would be mimicked for countless features. He won an Oscar for his efforts, becoming the first person to ever be given an Academy Award for Best Make-Up. Baker’s other pictures include John Carpenter’s Body Bags, Squirm, Thriller, The Howling, Hellboy, The Wolfman (2010), The Ring, The Frighteners, and even Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.
1. Jack Pierce
Pierce’s makeup on Lon Chaney Jr. in The Wolf Man was effective because it detailed the appearance of a wolf, while maintaining the humanity of a man. It’s hard not to feel sorry for Larry, a simple man trying to make amends with his father, and court a pretty new love interest, whose life is forever altered when fate makes other plans. But just as the film states, “Even a man who says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolf bane blooms and the autumn moon is bright”. Pierce captured the sorrow and despair of Larry’s misfortune, balanced with the rugged, uncontrollable nature of the beast within. Pierce’s portrayal of Frankenstein’s monster is just as ageless and influential as his Wolf Man, providing horror fans across all generations a creature to cherish, and picture first before all other depictions enter their minds. If it weren’t for Jack Pierce, there would be no Rick Baker, or Rob Bottin, or many other important special effects makeup artists. His immortal work has been remembered well beyond his years, and will continue to be emulated and worshipped for years to come in the horror community.